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History of Melba

    Settled in the midst of sagebrush, Melba became an oasis in the desert to the pioneers who had homesteaded south of there near the Snake River at the beginning of the 20th Century. The only sign of life was Sagebrush Annie, the train that went through the area and crossed the river to Murphy everyday. Folks on the north side of the river got their groceries and mail at the little town of Guffey in Owyhee County on the other side of the river. They walked across the train bridge or rode over on Perry’s Ferry.

    The nearest town was Nampa – nearly 20 miles away. So Melba would cut off five miles for those first pioneers. Already, the McMillan Sheep Co. and farming in the Glendale area were in need of a town.

    Clayton C. Todd was passing through the area on his way to Alaska to search for gold. He stopped over in Weiser to visit a friend, Mr. Fuller. Fuller told him about the new sale of state land going on. So, in August of 1912, Mr. Todd purchased 160 acres of land at Rock Spur, a siding on the railroad, and laid out a town. He named it after his little four-year-old daughter who was still in California with her mother, Bessie B. Todd.

    Stores, lumberyards, blacksmith shops and gas stations soon were built. It was a boom town in the middle of the bustling farming community. McClain’s Hardware carried everything from groceries to farm machinery. Pearl Brown said she was the first girl in town to wear britches because, working for the hardware store, she was forced to climb the ladder that slid along the south wall of the store. There were cubbyholes with nuts and bolts stored in them, clear to the ceiling.

    Todd had his own store across the street – Todd Commercial Co. Dewey Harris built the second store in the town. It still stands across from the post office – one of the few remaining original buildings left in town.

    Melba would always be known as a farming community. Right after the First World War, it would become famous for raising highbred sweet corn seed. While some were raising carrot seed, onion seed, alfalfa seed, as well as corn, for years it would be known as “The Seed Heart of America”.

    A school was built immediately, followed by churches and then fraternal organizations. The need to socialize was uppermost. It was working all day, every day, to grub a living in this new land. But they were all in the same boat. It was church on Sunday, PTA at the school and meetings and dances and box socials at the lodge halls. They were united in becoming a well-knit community. They were always having fundraisers to pay for their buildings, buy fuel and survive.

    In 1935 they brought electricity into the town. It would spread into the farm area as lines were strung from the Snake River and the Swan Falls Dam electrical plant.

    In 1949, following an epidemic of infantile paralysis around the country, Melba was affected. Five of the Cram family contracted the disease. June Trauernicht, who lived north of Melba, contracted the severe bulbar-type and spent the rest of her life sleeping in an iron lung. There were other lighter cases, but the community was touched. They got together and formulated a plan to raise money for research. January 1950 was the date set for the first Polio Auction. They would raise over $2,000 for the cause. After 57 years, the auction, renamed The Melba Community Auction, brings in about $30,000 each year. No longer the polio auction, it serves children's organizations, such as Little League, Boys’ and Girls’ State and contributes to several research organizations, such as cancer, heart and other diseases. They contribute to homes for unwed mothers, abuse shelters and finally, they have a reserve amount for local emergencies. They have helped families who have suffered loss from fire or illnesses.

    In 1963 the community gathered to celebrate the 100 years since Idaho had become a territory. There were parades with everything old-time clothes and vehicles and potluck dinners. From that evolved the Olde Tyme Fourth of July which brings people from all over the valley to eat, enjoy programs, a tractor pull, a huge parade and a spectacular fireworks display at sundown.

    The town has had a resurgence of growth. There are two new subdivisions and the prospect of more to come. The defunct grocery store is enjoying a new owner with a deli counter, lunch counter and a good selection of groceries. The school district, now an accumulation of all the little country schools around the valley that enjoyed their separate communities in the “horse and buggy” days, are united into a district with approximately 700 kids. There is a magnificent school building with two gymnasiums and a commons area which is shared with the community for the Community Auction, funerals and other notable functions.

    It is still a farming community, although many of the citizens commute to Nampa, Boise and other places to work. The lodges are losing their identity with the offer of movie theaters, arenas and stadiums in the bigger towns. There is a medical center to take care of the needs of the locals.

    Melba is still a unique place to live. The people enjoy their connection with each other. Activities, such as the annual auction and the Fourth of July celebration, bring hundreds to the community to enjoy each other’s company. Even though Melba is on the road to nowhere, it is where a lot of people want to be – at the end of the road.

Clayton and Bessie Todd
Melba Todd
Conyors Store - 1913
First Elementary School
Now American Legion Hall
Glendale School
First Community Auction
First Post Office
Railroad Station